Alô, Terezinha!

José Abelardo Barbosa de Medeiros, otherwise known as Chacrinha

When I was 12, I remember channel surfing through all 4 channels that we got: Rede Globo, Rede Manchete, Rede Bandeirantes, and SBT. If it was Saturday afternoon, I would usually land on Cassino do Chacrinha. For a few minutes, I would watch in wonder and awe at this ridiculous, yet alluring and titillating show. The scantily dressed dancers moved rhythmically in the background while this clown of an old man with a giant clown horn around his neck would talk in a loud, carnival barker voice. This old man, better known to Brazilian audiences as Chacrinha, would host a two hour variety show that bordered on the absurd. He would invite amateur singers onto his show only to honk his horn 10 seconds into their song if he didn’t like it and send them off with a pineapple as a parting gift. He would have the hottest singers singing their hit songs while the audience would go crazy and the background dancers, in their choreographed way, would dance along. He would host outlandish games that never quite made sense, but everyone played along as if their life depended on it.

I would only watch a few minutes but then hurriedly switch the channel so that my parents wouldn’t catch me watching it.

In my child’s mind, the show seemed to be on all afternoon — whether it was or not, I don’t know, but I never did watch an entire show. Yet, the references, the music, the catch phrases infiltrated my conscience somehow. I know the show, I understand the references, I remember the come-on song, I get nostalgic watching clips of it on YouTube.

Yet, I never watched an entire show.

It’s not that I was explicitly forbidden to, it was just known that in my household, we shouldn’t watch such filth. And being the obedient oldest child, I knew I could only steal a few seconds of the show. Looking back, I was never told I wasn’t allowed to watch it; it was common knowledge that it was forbidden because of a man dressed in silly drag and the “suggestive” dancing of the women. During Carnaval, we weren’t allowed to have the TV on — instead we would often go to church camps conveniently held during the same weekend. We weren’t allowed to watch certain hit TV shows because they were too risque. To further confuse my 12 year old mind, we went to the beach every weekend, wearing the latest in Brazilian swimming suit fashion because it was important that we “fit in”. It was more damaging to my psyche to have to wear a speedo than to watch breasts on national television.

I was robbed of a culture that I have to now grasp at and experience for the first time as an adult. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I watched a soccer game, getting drunk on caipirinhas enjoying the excitement of the moment. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I enjoyed Carnival and realized that my father was lying when he would tell people that the TV camera operators were lying on the ground filming straight up to get the most suggestive angles. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I understood that shows like Cassino do Chacrinha were not sinful or forbidden, but cultural icons. The show was silly, fun, and not at all suggestive. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the most harmful part was being told I was doing something wrong by watching it. Instilling this false yet very real sense of shame and not fully knowing why it was shameful has been more damaging than actually watching the damn show.

Chacrinha is credited with saying “I came here to make you confused, not to explain!” The irony of this whole situation is that that was how I was raised — confused with no explanation. Cassino do Chacrinha is more than just a silly show, it is symbolic of how I was raised as an evangelical missionary’s kid. It is representative of all that wasn’t allowed for no good reason.

I titled this essay “Alô, Terezinha.” This was Chacrinha’s catch phrase greeting. He would yell this at the audience numerous times during his show and they would always respond with a lewd sounding catcall. Translated it means “Hello, Teresa.” Teresa was no one in particular, it was just a nonsense way Chacrinha would get his audience’s attention. I’m using those words to claim this forbidden culture as my own, stripping away the “forbiddances” and being left with a heritage that is even richer because it is allowed, embraced, and encouraged. Even if I’m left with a pineapple and horns honking behind me, I am leaving a happier person.

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